After Surrender in Nagorno-Karabakh, Leaders Discuss Armenians’ Fate

One day after Azerbaijan used force to assert its authority over a mountainous breakaway region in the South Caucasus, its officials met with representatives of the pro-Armenian enclave on Thursday to discuss the future of the residents there under new rule.

Escorted by Russian peacekeepers, a delegation of the government of Nagorno-Karabakh met in the town of Yevlakh in Azerbaijan with representatives of the Azerbaijani government.

The meeting was held in a “constructive and positive atmosphere” according to a statement by the Azerbaijani presidential administration, but did not produce any immediate results.

Azerbaijan’s brisk military recapture of Nagorno-Karabakh — a strategic slice of land slightly bigger than Rhode Island that is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan — could further alter power dynamics in the combustible region where interests of Russia, Turkey and Western states collide.

Azerbaijan’s victory also posed a humanitarian challenge for tens of thousands of Armenians living there. Citing multiple historic grievances, many Armenians have been adamantly opposed to coming under Azerbaijani rule.

And while President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan, in an address on Wednesday, promised to create “a paradise” for Armenians in Karabakh who could “finally breathe a sigh of relief,” few were persuaded by a message coming from the leader of a nation many Armenians see as bent on destroying them.

“The biggest problem now is what to do with the many displaced people who cannot return to the villages that were captured by Azerbaijan,” said Olesya Vartanyan, an analyst who assesses the region for the International Crisis Group.

She said there were thousands of people in Nagorno-Karabakh who cannot decide what to do: hide in their basements, stay at Russian peacekeeping bases and observation points or try to flee the region. “People are in panic and the humanitarian situation there is horrendous,” she said.

On Thursday night, thousands of Armenians again came to the main square of Yerevan to urge their government to take a more assertive stance and protect Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh. Many kept trying to reach their relatives in the enclave, now under full control of Azerbaijan, calling and texting them repeatedly.

“There is no telephone connection, no electricity in most buildings, no food there,” said Marianna A. Vorskanyan, who kept trying her fiends in Nagorno-Karabakh. “These people have no idea what is awaiting them, the only corridor they could use to leave is surrounded by Azerbaijan.”

The shift in control also raised serious questions about the apparent waning of Russia’s influence in the region. Following a 44-day war in 2020, in which Azerbaijan recaptured much of its land, Russia sent about 2,000 peacekeepers to monitor the situation and prevent ethnic clashes. But lacking a clear mandate, peacekeepers could not prevent a new stage of fighting that flared over the summer and culminated in this week’s Azerbaijani victory.

Authorities in the breakaway government reported on Thursday that at least 200 people had died in the fighting, including 10 civilians; the rest were army servicemen. Those figures could be independently verified.

Separately, the Russian defense ministry reported that several of its peacekeepers were killed on Wednesday when their car came under small-arms fire as they returned from an observation point in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Thousands of people gathered on Wednesday evening on the main square of Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, to urge their government to intervene. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan of Armenia has been trying to distance his government from the conflict.

To many protesters, Mr. Pashinyan’s approach was a sign of betrayal. They chanted “Arstakh!” — the Armenian name for Nagorno-Karabakh — and called for Mr. Pashinyan to be arrested. Some protesters blocked streets leading to the square and a group of them attacked the main government building. But in interviews, people seemed resigned to the idea that Nagorno-Karabakh might be lost, even if not forever.

A smaller crowd in front of the Russian embassy in Yerevan demanded that Moscow take a more assertive stance. The string of defeats has forced many in Armenia to reconsider the traditional view that Moscow was the country’s main protector.

“We cannot simply rely on others to defend us,” said Rebecca, a 65-year-old protester, who declined to give her last name for fear of repercussions. Standing in front of the government building, she said that she “cannot accept” that Nagorno-Karabakh would be lost forever.

“A miracle must happen,” she said.

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